What do you do with your feelings? How do you survive?

It can be dangerous to be different. 

Some people immerse themselves in a profession or sport or fight back through the courts and public protest. Others escape through music, drink, sex, drugs, or the intentional communities they form. Humor and irony save many people. Some do not survive. 

Figure skating costume, 1988, worn by Olympic gold medalist Brian Boitano  

Figure skating costume, 1988, worn by Olympic gold medalist Brian Boitano  

Gift of Brian A. Boitano 

Wedding favor with drawing of two men, 2014

Wedding favor with drawing of two men, 2014

After many years of legal challenges, gay marriage was gradually legalized across America, first by states starting in 2004 and then nationally in 2015. 

Gift of Bil Browning and Jerame Davis 

Toy school bus, late 1970s–early 1980s  

Toy school bus, late 1970s–early 1980s  

Young Bil Browning endured bullying on the school bus. He coped by playing with this toy bus, imagining that the bus ate bullies. 

Gift of Bil Browning and Jerame Davis 

Mascara pencils and sharpener, 2018

Mascara pencils and sharpener, 2018

Used by irreverent artist, author, and filmmaker John Waters to highlight his mustache.

Gift of John Waters

Buttons, 1980s–2010 

“Gay Marriage is a Civil Right

“Gay Marriage is a Civil Right"

"Trans Rights Now” 

Gift of Bil Browning and Jerame Davis 

“Everything I Like is Either Illegal, Immoral, or Busy on Saturday Night”  

“Everything I Like is Either Illegal, Immoral, or Busy on Saturday Night”  

“Some of My Best Friends are Straight” 

“Some of My Best Friends are Straight” 

Gift of Mark Segal 

“fesbian-leminist” 

“fesbian-leminist” 

Gift of Mark Segal 

“I’m Not Gay but My Lover Is” 

“I’m Not Gay but My Lover Is” 

Gift of Roger Fischer 

“My Unicorn is Lesbian” 

“My Unicorn is Lesbian” 

“Don’t Die Wondering” 

“Don’t Die Wondering” 

Gift of Adele Brown 

Superman cape, early 1980s, worn by Matt Shepard as a child

Superman cape, early 1980s, worn by Matt Shepard as a child

Shepard was targeted as gay, robbed, and brutally murdered in Laramie, Wyoming, in 1998.

Gift of Judy and Dennis Shepard 

Wedding ring, around 1996

Wedding ring, around 1996

Purchased by Matt Shepard while in college in anticipation of a future marriage.

Gift of Judy and Dennis Shepard

Center for Human Tumor Virus Research sign and counter, 1983

Center for Human Tumor Virus Research sign and counter, 1983

AIDS and cancer researcher Jay Levy displayed this sign in his laboratory. Levy led one of the teams that isolated HIV.

Gift of University of California San Francisco through Dr. Jay Levy

“We Support Anita Bryant” bumper sticker, 1977

“We Support Anita Bryant” bumper sticker, 1977

Anita Bryant led a successful campaign called “Save Our Children,” to overturn an ordinance in Dade County, Florida, that protected LGBTQ+ citizens.

Mark Segal Papers, Archives Center, National Museum of American History

Lobotomy knives, 1950s

Lobotomy knives, 1950s

Lobotomy was a kind of brain surgery, once used to “cure” homosexuality.

Gift of Henry A. Ator

Pink triangle button, 1970s

Pink triangle button, 1970s

In the 1930s and 1940s, the Nazis required gay men to wear pink triangles. Activists reclaimed the symbol in the late 1960s.

Gift of Richard Rohrbaugh

“It can happen here to gays” button with Nazi symbol, 1976

“It can happen here to gays” button with Nazi symbol, 1976

Gift of Mark Segal

"Kill the Queers" sticker used to deface Philadelphia Gay News boxes, 1980s 

Pride Marches

The first pride marches took place in New York City, San Francisco, Los Angeles, and Chicago to mark the first anniversary of the Stonewall uprising. In addition to celebrations, people have come in mass numbers to the National Mall in Washington, D.C., with specific demands. 

Take Yourself to Washington: Dare to Be You

October 14, 1979

National March on Washington for Lesbian and Gay Rights

Among the demands of the first mass march were that Congress pass a comprehensive lesbian and gay rights bill and repeal all anti-gay laws.

Three buttons from March on Washington, 1979


October 11, 1987

National March on Washington for Lesbian and Gay Rights

The second mass march included the AIDS quilt on the National Mall and demanded passage of a lesbian and gay rights bill, repeal of sodomy laws, and reproductive freedom. It also sought an end to discrimination against people with AIDS, to sexist oppression and racism in the United States, and to apartheid in South Africa.

Buttons, 1987

March on Washington for Lesbian and Gay Rights

March on Washington for Lesbian and Gay Rights

Out and Outraged, for Love, Life, Liberation

Out and Outraged, for Love, Life, Liberation

March on Washington, for Love and for Life

March on Washington, for Love and for Life

Join People of Color

Join People of Color


April 25, 1993

March on Washington for Lesbian, Gay and Bi Equal Rights and Liberation

The third mass march demanded passage of a lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender rights bill; repeal of sodomy laws; a large increase in AIDS funding; universal access to healthcare; and an end to discrimination of all kinds, including on the basis of sex, race, gender expression, disability, and HIV and AIDS status.

Buttons, 1993

“DC in 93”

“DC in 93”

Bisexuality, the “B” in LGBTQ+, often goes unrecognized or is criticized as ambivalence.

“1993 March on Washington, April 25”

“1993 March on Washington, April 25”

“One in a Million, DC 93”

“One in a Million, DC 93”